Clearing Criminal Records in Massachusetts

Is It Possible To Clear My Criminal Record?

If you have been arrested, you know firsthand just how difficult and trying it is to be caught up in the criminal justice system. Handcuffed; perhaps treated harshly; brought to court to face a judge; your freedom at stake - everything happens so quickly that it can be disorienting and scary. Even if you ultimately succeed in obtaining some type of dismissal of the charges, you will still have an entry on your criminal record. And a criminal record can cause problems in employment, professional licensing, and even housing and loan applications. Even if the case is ultimately dismissed or you are found not guilty, your record often remains accessible to others, and potentially damaging to your future. However, there are ways to help clear your record as much as possible: petitioning a court to seal the record, or, in some limited situations, expungement.

Sealing Your Record.

Massachusetts provides that individuals may petition a court to seal a criminal record in certain circumstances. The law regarding sealing rights and procedures has changed often over the years - most recently in 2012 with the legislature's latest CORI reform effort. Sealing your record can make it unavailable for most types of public access, including typical background checks for employment, housing or loan applications. It also means that you can legally deny the existence of the record, and even the events leading to the charges. The criminal record is removed from all public indexes and data bases and can only be accessed with a court order (usually only granted for matters of "public interest".)

Not all criminal records are eligible to be sealed, however, and there can be a waiting period in many cases. Juvenile records and adult criminal records that end in a conviction, with the exception of first-time adult drug possession convictions, are eligible to be sealed after a waiting period (between 5 - 10 years depending on the crime.) Criminal charges that end favorably in a dismissal, nolle prosequi (commonly known as a "nol pros," which means there will be no further action by the prosecution), or a finding of not guilty or no probable cause may be eligible for sealing without a waiting period. Certain records are ineligible for sealing, regardless of the time frame.

Expungement?

Expungement differs from sealing in that it is an actual physical removal of your record from all official indexes or public records. It is as if the record, or the offense leading to the record, never happened. Unfortunately, Massachusetts has no statute providing for expungement of adult or juvenile records, but there are limited circumstances where the courts have allowed expungement of certain records.

Protect your future.

The process for either of these actions will begin with obtaining a complete copy of your criminal record ("CORI" report) through the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS). The process can be an administrative matter or a more complicated one involving judicial hearings. If you are wanting to seal a criminal record, you should seek knowledgeable legal assistance to direct you through the process and help protect your future.

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